How sweet it is to feel progress and indulge in the success of a redpoint? We enjoy the process itself some of the time, and those with a bit more mental strength will enjoy it a little more frequently, but the process isn’t always the perfect picture of leisure time. The process can feel cruel, it’s hard work, scary and painful. It is really the taste of the send that keeps us coming back for more – more often than is admitted by the philosophical type who write these kinds of pieces. We feel success and it builds confidence in our own competence, creating a longing to recreate this sensation. A hit if you like. Definitely addictive, and only detrimental to a select few who abandon all else in sole pursuit of this arbitrary sense of achievement.
What’s fascinating is that in periods when climbing takes a backseat in the ride of life, we are reminded that hunting this success is no easy process, and that immersing oneself in the process is more important than ever. To feel progress, one has to dig deep, not merely to be present in the moment but to truly want to put the time and effort into training. Being good at what we do feels good, and if we don’t receive input via the feedback loop of sending, it can be particularly frustrating. Now setting training goals is necessary to keep us going, because, well, nobody goes from the first tie in to climbing 9A without putting in a few hours of effort. But, weighted hangs are not exactly given names nor are great tales written about them. It is clear that nobody cares who the hangboarding world champion is. We need training goals to help keep us going between sends, but the send is like a medium-term goal – we have it in the back of our heads whenever we chalk up, either on less challenging lines, or at the gym or on our hangboard.
It was at the end of my matric year that some friends and I made a trip across the country from Durban to Oudtshoorn where I got properly hooked on the sweetness of sending. I had ditched the high school parade to ‘matric rage’, a traditional rite of passage where high school leavers spend a month on the beach indulging in alcohol and flaunting their sexual prowess. This seemed to me far less exciting than a climbing trip with my university aged friends. Not unlike many youthful climbing trips, it was to be inordinately long and wildly ambitious. It was on this trip that I discovered how much I really like to send. Because we all did a shitload of sending!
The mission critical was: Live cheaply and climb everything – a good life motto perhaps? We were blissfully unaware of our privilege in being able to drive across the country, carefree, for the sole purpose of chasing our climbing goals. I’m not sure I even had particular goals, just a desire to climb harder than I ever had before.
Limestone was a foreign concept to me. The powerful, shorter routes surrounding Durban had not prepared me for the endurance fest that awaited us. It took a few days to build up something resembling endurance. But climbing with your hips and using kneebars made sense to my body. Once I had built the endurance and the resting techniques, I felt an explosion in development. I put on weight in the form of muscle over the course of this trip and learnt how long to rest and how to keep focused. I didn’t understand the complexity of base building, and instead built a towering totem pole of sends. Racking up the grades one on top of the next. A 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and finally a 28! Heading back to other lines later on that would keep me excited. And believe me, the numbers mattered. While the totem-pole approach would make most sports scientists cringe, it was the stuff of youthful ambition. What is the next greatest number?
In hindsight I laugh at chasing numbers. But I am goal driven and these seemed so tangible. The seemingly quantifiable nature of each send spurred me on. Goonie Goo Goo, a pumpy 22 with relatively easy individual moves was the beginning. Lost Safari, an almost endless 28, with a crux heartbreakingly high up, was the cherry on the top. Each route in between adding a new lesson to my syllabus of tufa climbing. As tradition (or perhaps newly declared initiation) would have it, the send of Lost Safari meant that I was to drink a small bottle of local white spirits – Witblitz. I downed it with pleasure, relishing in the success of the day and indeed the trip. A trip that was to produce my most psyched climbing experience. I would get stronger and much better at climbing over the years, but I’m not sure I will easily replicate how amazing this trip was. Oudtshoorn was full of friendship, time around the campfire, living in dirtbag existence but coming from the immense privilege our backgrounds afforded us. What was the recipe? A group of fun and understanding friends all on the same page, throw in some young love, a heap of freedom before university term began and indeed a hunger for the sweetness of sending.